Monday, June 27, 2005

Ars Necrotica

This article exists as an addendum to Chapter 19, WITCHA, Mandrake of Oxford, where we have introduced the subject of Necromancy; Necros Mantia, being the summoning by goety of the shades of the departed. Such may be for the purposes of interviewing the shade, perhaps to discover some secret kept by them in life, or to employ that greater wisdom that comes with the passing into death. The shade might also be bound unto the service of the witch, and made to obey their command. It is that art forbidden by Mosaic Law, Levit.XIX:31; XX:6, which is abhorred by the Lord, Deut.XVIII:11, 12, and punishable by death, Levit.XX:27; cf. I Kings.XXVIII:9. Necromancy is found in every nation of antiquity, and is a practice common to paganism at all times and in all countries. It was known amongst the sorcerers of Persia, Etruria, Chaldea and Babylon. Isaias XIX:3 refers to its practice in Egypt, and in Deut.XVIII:9-12 Moses warns the Israelites against imitating the Chanaanite abominations, among which is mentioned seeking the truth from the dead. In Deut.XVIII:11, Isa.XIX:3, Vulgate, we find mention of 'pythons', which in the Hebrew are called as 'ôbôth denoting the spirits of the dead, who were consulted to learn of the future (Deut.XVIII:10-11, I KingsXXVIII:8), giving their answers through the possession of mediums (Levit.XX:27, I Kings.XXVIII:7), Isaias.VIII:19 states that necromancers 'mutter' and makes the following prediction concerning Jerusalem: "Thou shalt speak out of the earth, and thy speech shall be heard out of the ground, and thy voice shall be from the earth like that of the python and out of the ground th! y speech shall mutter" (XXIX:4). We find it practised in the time of Saul (I Kings.XXVIII:7-9), in the age of Isaias, who reproaches the Hebrews on this ground (VIII:19, XIX:3, XXIX:4, etc.), and of Manasses (IV Kings.XXI:6, II Par.XXXIII:6). It is to that art employed by the anonymous witch of Endor, whom Saul commands to summon the soul of Samuel (I Kings.XXVIII). In ancient Greece and Rome the rites of nekromanteia, psychomanteia, or psychopompeia were performed in dark caverns, in volcanic regions, or near rivers and lakes, such as that celebrated oracle in Laconia, in a large and deep cavern from which black and stinkings vapour issued, and which was considered as one of the entrances to the cthonian realms. So too were they performed in Thesprotia, besides the river Acheron, which was supposed to be one of the rivers leading into the underworld, and at Aornos in Epirus and Heraclea on the Propontis, and in Italy was the oracle of Cumæ summoned in a cavern near Lake Avernus in Campania. It is spoken of in the narrative of Ulysses' voyage to Hades (Odyssey, XI), which tells of his evocation of souls by means of the various rites as taught by Circe.

Thus we may see that Necromancy is amongst our most ancient of traditions, for indeed it has been known amongst men since the first aeon. It is spoken of at length in many of the classical grimoire of the craft. As divinities frequently were but human heroes raised to the rank of gods, necromancy, mythology, and demonology are in close relation, and the oracles of the deceased are not always easily distinguished from those of other spirits. Those rites as are employed in the evocation of shades are in all ways similar to those of other forms of goety, whether summoning daemons, phaeries, or familiars.

You may know that such shades still love their relinquished bodies after death, and are allured to their proximity as young lovers are one to the other. This is especially so with the shades of criminal men, who have died under unfulfilled oaths, or harbouring guilt for things they did not take chance to put right. Also, with those who have died suddenly, by violence and surprise, and the shades of those awaiting burial. From hence it is, that the shades of the dead are summoned by the application of some part of their relict body, and by the sacrificing of fresh blood. Other offerings are of bones, flesh, eggs, milk, oils, honey, as with the traditional Soul Cakes, by the preparation of food such as is known as the Dumb Supper, and such things as do remind the shade of its manifestation in physical form.

The circumstances and conditions of the Necromantic Art, such as the time, place, and rites to be followed, depend upon various conceptions entertained concerning the nature of the departed spirit; its abode, its relations with the earth and with the body in which it previously resided. Conjurations as these are most effectively performed in those places that the shades of the dead are known to most frequent. Such might be some place of importance to the shade when in life, of which they felt affection, and which might allure them. If the death was violent or sudden, the shade may often be called from proximity to such a place as their shade was separated from its body. Alternatively, they might be drawn to some place where a spirit trap has been lain, that they may be punished and enslaved by the sorcerer. Those places also suitable are those that are revealed in dream, vision, or are known for apparitions, or upon whose soil much blood has spilt. To such a place ! are the bones, flesh, sacrifices, perfumes, and tools of evocation taken.

The lore of the graveyard, and of death, is an uncomfortable subjects to consider. It inspires an irrational superstitious fear, as any midnight graveyard will, despite being hallowed ground and thus theoretically 'safe'. Even the most modern mind can become unsettled by places. Even in our apparently enlightened age, we are still surrounded by taboos concerning all things deathly and funereal, as anyone who has ever found employ in 'death-care' will contest.

Nevertheless, the use of human remains was common in our old spell-craft. Human bones, usually powdered, were employed in many of those remedies sold by medieval apothecaries. Mixing such with red wine was believed to provide relief from dysentery. Another cure, this time for gout, included mucilage scraped from shin bones 'found' in a graveyard. A tricksterish spell recorded in the nineteenth century was to mix the burnt remains of a corpse with ale, so as to vastly improve its potency. Medieval sorcerers were keen to acquire them for their workings, with the theft of human remains from graveyards and tumuli being frequent. Similarly, such unwholesome ingredients provide a regular part of much surviving folk magic, both in England as elsewhere. Modern practitioners, being more likely to acquire their ingredients from a reliable supplier than go grave robbing, have largely substituted the hoodoo powder called 'graveyard dust' for spells whose earlier forms would r! equire necrotic substances.

The most famous example of necrotic witchcraft is probably the 'hand of glory'. Many other spells employed the left hand of a corpse, which may be used for both benign and malign ends. Such beliefs, although held more rarely today, are still alive amongst certain witches in East Anglia. When I returned to live in Norwich, Norfolk, and reforged contact with certain hereditary streams existent here, I met a young witch who confessed to owning such a gruesome item which she used in her spellcasting, now mummified and over a hundred years old. The essence of the belief seems to be that a certain portion of a person's 'spiritual power' may reside in its corpse after death, so that an item becomes powerful because it is essentially haunted. As is known amongst ghost hunters, those who have lead traumatic lives are more likely to leave some kind of 'aetheric recording', and this is in keeping with the idea that the body parts used in spells are often those taken from cri! minals, or those that have died a sudden or traumatic death.

That part of our skeletal structure believed most likely to maintain some semblance of the spirit is undoubtedly the skull. It was once believed to be the essential vehicle and centre of the soul, and of all psychic awareness. Thus the warriors of ancient times took great pleasure in collecting heads, just as in modern times we believe the seat of consciousness to be the brain, and thus still essentially 'within the head'. In the rites of witchcraft, the skull may be seen not merely as the 'container' of an individual spirit, but as a point of contact between those who serve in the circle and the ancestors.

Let it be understood that such things as oils and human remains are not sufficient in themselves for the raising of shades. It is of greatest importance that the summoner has prepared their own mind with meditations and rites of quiescent gnosis, the ultimate expression of which is that which has been called the Death Posture. Such periods of self preparation and purification are instructed within all the grimoires of antiquity, although couched in the language and beliefs of their time. There may also be employed certain unguents and potions known to the witches, whose effect is to transport the soul of the witch to a place 'between the worlds', and which may serve to heighten astral perceptions. It is through the trance of the witch that the spirits shall manifest, and any disturbance shall jeopardise the operation in its entirety. Moreover, there are things which may aid or hinder the operation of which I may not speak, since they are known only to the dead the! mselves. Such shades are allured by those things that do move the spirit, be they of rationality and intellect, or imaginative and intuition. Such may include the use of poetry, song, sound, enchantments; such as are provided in the classical grimoire, and are known to the witches of the sinister craft.

Nathaniel J. Harris is the author of 'Witcha- A Book of Cunning', published by Mandrake of Oxford. A Yahoo group discussing those disciplines outlined in his work may be found at-


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home